As always before my first morning class, I’m sitting in my swivel chair in my office sipping coffee. I cross my legs and see for the first time — the first time I can remember — that I’m wearing mismatched socks.
They aren’t disturbingly mismatched — orange with purple, say, or green with heliotrope. One’s navy, the other dark gray. But there they are, mismatched socks sprouting up from my shoes as someone’s ring tone goes off outside my open door.
Still looking down, I try to take comfort from the incontestable fact that the shoes are perfectly matched. Both are black, both with the same bulbous shape true of all my shoes these days, shoes with the super-impact-absorbing soles my feet now require.
The computer beeps on my desk, signaling a new salvo of email. But as I go on communing with mismatched socks and top-of-the-line orthopedic shoes, somehow, in the moment, the small beep and the apprehension it brings register with me in a way that fits with my footwear.
More and more these days, email messages seem like intrusions. They announce, remind, and summon me to ground-breakings, installation ceremonies and workshops; with updates, clarifications, committee business. And with introductions to new faculty who will make their way in the academic world, in realms with which I am mismatched.
The student out in the hall silenced the ring tone, and is now carrying on an animated conversation about hybrid engines. It’s a small comfort to hear this. Hybrid engines is a topic that serves as a momentary bridge between then and now, between a day lost in the mists of antiquity when I started teaching here, and today. The old economy, I think, still looking at my feet. The solid, reliable brick-and-mortar world of internal combustion.
The student now changes topics, from the fading world of fossil fuels to software. Or is it gaming? I’m not sure. I know I shouldn’t be listening, but this is one of those generational things that go with my bulbous shoes, this thing about havingto listen to people on cell phones who share my world.
Except, today, they aren’t really sharing it with me. They are only house-sitting it, while their true selves abide with the radio waves and electrons provided by someone on another cell phone.
It’s a shock, but also a relief. I realize the time is right. Someone else seated in this chair, someone with firmer resolve, a younger brain and fresh ambition would already be doing something useful with the morning, not stitching together unrelated details.
But that’s what I’m doing, and I realize I am doing it more often. It’s a small discovery, but one that brings me this particular morning to a tipping point of self-knowledge.
Just as batteries are replacing carburetion and fuel injection, someone better suited, better socked and shod should soon be coming mornings to this office and swivel chair. Someone who drinks something better suited to the times than plain coffee. Maybe a high-performance mocha latte with belts of ginseng, B-complex and green-tea extract.
The speaker out in the hall is on the move. His voice fades, and I raise my cup. Health to you, I think. And to the new faculty member I will help to choose. Resolved: This time next year, nothing but flip flops. Thanks for reading. Please visit me at http://www.bwknister.com/